"I used the time on the lake to think about my life. I made the decision, in that moment, that I would be the first in my family to graduate from high school and college."
After more than a year of distanced mentoring conversations and virtual Zoom experiences, Summer Search is thrilled to return to a range of in-person, empowering summer program options for our students in 2021, which include community service, academic, and outdoor wilderness adventure opportunities.
Research shows that outdoor education and wilderness programs foster positive mental health in teens and young adults. After a year that has left our teenagers isolated and
consumed by technology, the Great Outdoors can serve as much-needed respite. The space, time, and uniqueness that these experiences provide create the opportunities for our
students to dream of all that is possible.
This was profoundly true for Merari Reyes, from Summer Search Boston.
Merari, who will be graduating from Bridgewater State University this May, recently reflected on the impact his two summer experiences had on the trajectory of his life. For his first experience back in 2016, he spent two weeks in Minnesota on an Outward Bound canoe trip. His junior year trip was an international service program in Costa Rica with Global Leadership Adventures.
Below, Merari shares, in his own words, significant moments from those experiences where he found stillness to dream about what was to come next on his journey.
One of the things I remember most-vividly from my summer trip (with Outward Bound) was seeing the stars. This may seem so small, but it was a big deal for me. The stars aren't as visible at home. In the city, looking up at the stars at night doesn’t have the same effect as it does in the middle of Minnesota.
We had finished a hike and were canoeing for several miles around a massive lake looking for a campsite. We passed several different sites, only to find out they were all booked. Now, over an hour had passed and we’d covered miles without any luck. I could see our team getting tired and frustrated, but trying to hold it all together. We started to snap at each other -- passing the blame for not being able to find a campsite. It was late at night and we had nowhere to go… Nowhere!
Our team leader asked us to just stop, take a break, and a few deep breaths. I first thought it was ridiculous and wanted to keep looking for a campsite. But I decided to calm down and took a few deep breaths. At that moment, I found myself looking up at the stars. The sky was pitch black with shiny specks of lights all around it. It was peaceful. I didn’t care about finding a campsite anymore. I just wanted to gaze at the stars. I thought about where I was in life, about what it meant to be a Summer Searcher.
Though I didn’t recognize it at first, the meeting with the stars was a familiar feeling. It was what my mentor and I did often, the only difference was that we didn’t meet late at night, in the middle of a lake, after hours of searching for a campsite.
I used the time on the lake to think about my life. I decided that I would spend more time reflecting and thinking about what was ahead of me. I made the decision, in that moment, that I would be the first in my family to graduate from high school and college.
I was yanked back to my canoe when I heard my instructor say, “Paddle to the left, we will create our own campsite”. Before I knew it, we were setting up our tents and getting ready for bed. The answer to our challenge had been right in front of us -- we just needed to be still for a moment.
My Summer Search experience provided the confidence boost I needed. That first trip pushed me mentally and physically. At the end of the trip we did a mini-marathon where we canoed, portaged (that's where you carry the canoe and your bags overland) and then ran five miles. That was a HUGE feat for me and I was blown away by what I could accomplish.
I knew I could handle anything from then on. I learned how to channel, tap and redirect my energy. I got more involved in my school and community. I joined clubs, sports, started working, and took AP classes. I pushed myself as much as possible... I took on the world after that.
My mom didn’t fully understand what Summer Search was at first. I showed her photos of all the things I’d done on my trips-- and talked to her about how much I’ve grown from having a mentor. She was excited to learn that I would spend my second summer in Costa Rica focusing on a community-based, reforestation, greenhouse project. But she was especially happy that I could finally use my Spanish!
On this second trip, I decided that I would study environmental geo-science and I now plan to get my master’s degree, focusing my research on Desalination.
On my first summer trip I decided that I would go to college. On my second trip I solidified what I wanted to study.
I am Merari Reyes, and I will be graduating in May from Bridgewater State University. And when I can, I still enjoy pausing to look at the stars.
Please consider investing in our program to provide vital outdoor experiences for our Summer Searchers, like Merari. They’re ready to take on the world once again!